In June 2012, I travelled to Kuching, Malaysia, as part of an intensive studio research collaboration course offered by College of Fine Arts (COFA) called Syntropy Sarawak.
The two week intensive design studio was held at the University of Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, in conjunction with the Contemporary Songket Weaving Centre, Kuching, the Sirim Ceramic Incubator, and the Indigenous ceramic craft centre, Batang Air.
Places in the course were limited to 20 students and the selection process was quite competitive. I was thrilled to have been selected!
All COFA students stayed within the UNIMAS campus, at the International Student Hostel Alamanda College. Since we arrived during the semester break, the campus was almost empty, except for those who decided to stay in town.
As this was an intensive course, we started the week with visiting three places: the UNIMAS Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts facilities, the Contemporary Songket Weaving Workshop (Tanoti Sdn. Bhd.) and the SIRIM Sdn. Bhd. and Malaysian Handicraft Development Cooperation, Sarawak Branch.
Tanoti Sdn. Bhd. - Contemporary Songket Weaving Workshop (25/6/2012)
Tanoti Sdn Bhd is a congregation of Sarawakian women weavers and artisans dedicated towards the production, promotion and proliferation of hand-crafted fabrics. This continuously-growing community of craftswomen had its origins in a research and development workshop set up by a foundation established by Her Royal Highness the Queen of Malaysia in 2008, the Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah.
The workshop was privatised in 2012 pursuant to a restructuring exercise undertaken by the foundation. Tanoti aims to make good the vision of the foundation, that is to improve lives and livelihoods of womenfolk and rural communities through the ancient art of songket weaving.
This was actually the very fist time I have ever been in a weaving workshop! It was an eye-opener as to how much effort goes into the making of Songket fabric.
Dr June Ngo, at that time Senior Lecturer and Deputy Dean (Postgraduate and Research) of the Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, UNIMAS, explained to us that Songket is a traditional Malay fabric woven in silk/cotton/metalic threads to for Songket motifs. Songket can be expensive to produce due to the lengthy processes and also the materials used.
The process of Songket weaving is ardurous, wiht complication calculations required for the weaving. To give context, Dr Ngo explained that an experienced weaver can produce only up to 2 inches of Songket fabric in one day.
There are some challenges. The Songket fabric is limited in its use. There is also competition with mass produced Songket which are cheaper and faster to make. Retaining the workforce for Songket weaving is also a problem as the initial learning process can take years to master.
Tanoti is giving the craft a new zest of life by making Songket more available to the wider market. Tanoti has branched out to make products such as handbags, cushion covers, tableware and wall panels from songket. In addition, simpler weaving designs are implement to make the songket textile more affordable.
Another thing I learned is a new type of fabric = Songtik. Songtik is a combination of Songket and Batik. The process of Songtik is to first create the Batik on warped thread and then the Songket designs are applied. How clever is that!
All content written are my personal views. All images are owned by me.
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Irine is a recipient of the Australia Council for the Arts' Artstart Grant (June 2014-2015).
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